The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed beyond belief. It wasn’t as if the day prior had really been so bad, but more that it was like a reset button on my body. My feet weren’t that achy, and neither were my legs. I was a bit stiff, but after the initial wake up stretch, it was as if I hadn’t already walked 65 miles.
Fanny and I decided to try to meet at the same place again, leaving at the same time after breakfast, around 7:30am. We had some quick hills, but now my body seemed to be good at handling the buggers. I also knew how my body would react appropriately, so I could manage myself if the asthma wouldn’t settle properly. Within fifteen minutes, Fanny set down her pack to take something out.
“This is usually my picture time,” she explained. “You can stick around if you want, but I will be stopping a lot along the way. Otherwise, we can just meet up later?”
“Yeah, I think meeting up later would be best. The asthma will even out if I keep walking,” I explained.
I started to walk away, then turned back. “I’ll see you soon!”
“It was a good talk we had last night. Thanks for that.”
I went over and gave her a hug. “Yes, it was great. If we don’t meet up again on the trail, I hope it will be at some other time!” I had given her one of my cards the day prior.
“Yes. Au revoir.”
She had said she was a slow hiker before, but she’d surpassed me the day before when I’d stopped to take a rest. I assumed we’d meet up once again within an hour or two.
But, we didn’t.
Instead, the wind began picking up. The grey clouds took over the sky. There were a few sprinkles here and there, but it soon began to be a swift rain coming down. At first, it was a nice change from the heat. I wouldn’t have to worry about my skin burning, and the cool water felt good while hiking; my feet and legs hardly began to ache. But, even through my nice jacket, I knew I had to stop eventually to get some tea and warm up. The water was dripping off of my hood. I was thankful my pack had a rain guard.
I ran into Mikal and was shocked that he had been behind me. He’d left about a half hour before I did, and he was, after all, Mr. 34km Man (patent pending).
We said our hellos, then continued to see each other throughout the morning, the rain staying a steady drizzle. When we finally stopped at a bar, I stayed a lot longer than he to give my feet a rest as I’d already traveled ten miles that morning. I debated about how far I wanted to go. I had been told that the next “official” stop (there are proper books that have particular towns considered the St. Jacques way) was to be twenty kilometers, with the additional seven kilometers from the morning to get us to the next town first.
This is where it got interesting for me.
Running into Mikal throughout the day, I eventually got to asking him about where the last stop would be. And, as it turned out, the last stop was 26.7km without the additional morning trek. When I found this information out, I had a decision to keep going or try to get to that official town.
Feeling sadistic, I decided to see if I could make it.
And I mean feeling sadistic. There is this odd sort of pain and pleasure flow of hiking this trail. You feel it to your bones, but then you have a sense of gratitude at how far you’ve gone.
It took me until 5pm to finally get to the town and settle in a Gite for the night, which was an elementary school-like dormitory. One side had children running about, the other had rooms with basic beds. I took my first real hot shower to warm myself up from the cold rain. While I hadn’t gotten that wet while wearing my jacket, my legs and sweat had gotten cold after stopping for a time when arriving. It felt deliciously good until I noticed there was some mold on the ceiling.
I quickly left after that, doing another check of my bed and the seven others in the dorm room to make sure there weren’t bed bugs. Satisfied, I checked to see if there was internet to update my blog. There was, but it is limited access, very difficult to work with. I figured I’d check back in after getting some dinner since it was around 7pm.
When will I learn my lessons?
In France, all stores close at 6pm besides bars or restaurants.
I slowly trekked up the hill to the nearest restaurant, wondering how much I’d be paying as actual dinner in France tends to be four courses for twenty euro. As I got in, I saw two of the people I’d trekked with sitting with someone else, and they ushered me to eat with them. The other guy was named Roger.
Roger is the first person I met who is also trekking all the way to Santiago. Except that he has been walking since July 4th, and he started in Switzerland.
This. Fucking. Trail. I. Tell. You.
I ended up getting their Boeffe du Jour, which I then found out was veal, and I had always said I’d never, ever participate in such a cruel recipe, but then I began to think about how much I love lamb, and I was really, really hungry, so…
It was okay. Nothing to really write home about. Tasted like the beef we put in our stew at home. I like lamb better.
After dinner, we went our separate ways, me to write, the rest to either sleep or have some wine.
The next morning, I woke up and couldn’t believe what a great night’s rest I’d had. The bed wasn’t that comfortable, but there wasn’t anyone to shift in the night, snore, or generally worry about if I had to shift. I was still tired, but I knew I had to keep urging myself to get out of the door or else I’d linger too long.
I found a good place for a quick breakfast, which ended up also having fantastic Wifi–I took advantage to properly update everything as I’d planned the night before. I was on the road by 7:30am.
Within moments, I ran into Roger. We discussed the day ahead of us as there was supposed to be a lot of downhill trekking. I considered the day I’d had before me and decided that I’d only do the sixteen kilometers to the next official town to prepare for the next day, which was an aggressive downhill struggle on the mountain.
Roger said that he’d met a girl from New Zealand who was also walking all the way to Santiago. I was happy to know I could run into a few people prior to Spain, especially a Kiwi!
“I am still shocked at how many people just come and walk for a few weeks at a time, sometimes only days, on this trail. It’s pretty awesome,” I said to Roger while going up a nice mountain hill. I hated and loved it at the same time.
“Yes, but if you think about it, it isn’t the same. When you only are around for a few weeks, you don’t really get into the mindset of a pilgrim. The first weeks of your trek are taking in the beauty of what is around you, getting used to your surroundings. Then, you start to get bored. That is when you begin to think about things.”
I realized he was right. A lot of people took the trail as a holiday, something to view, but they knew they were eventually getting off of the trail. The life around you was, ultimately, a distraction if you hadn’t seen it yet. While it was still amazing to have the capability to walk for a few weeks here and there when you want to, walking for months straight gives you no option but to have introspect.
We parted ways because someone who treks from Switzerland to Camino de Compostela is obviously more experienced than I, but I ended up finding myself back in the good graces of Mikal, who had left a bit after me. As we talked, he noted, “You aren’t speaking as much French as you were a few days back.”
“Oh,” I said, “Well, I guess I’ve been spoiled, with Fanny and Roger. It is easy to stop using when you aren’t surrounded by people who speak French.”
We came across a monument just before Aubrac. It said: Dans le silence et la solitude on n’entend plus l’essentiel.
“Do you know what that means?” he asked me, pointing at the words.
“‘In silence and solitude’ is the first part…but what is the last about essentials?”
“It means we should be listening to our hearts more often,” he said, patting his chest.
I looked it up later. He was right.
In silence and solitude one hears only the essentials.
I thought about what Roger had said before.
I would need a bit longer to hear over the achy feet and legs.
It went like that for a while. We’d say “Au revoir”, but I kept running back into both Roger and Mikal. The trail was hard on the knees, keeping balance while dodging rocks.
“You know,” Mikal said at one point. “There is a saying in French that we have.” He then said something completely French, but I can’t remember it. “It means that we regret something.” I said the something that was completely French, but then forgot, even though I said it correctly to him at the time. “I mention it because I wish I knew more English. I took it in school, but I did not find it important enough to keep up with.”
“You’re doing really well,” I replied. “It is twenty times better than what I can do in French.”
“Yes, but I enjoy talking with you,” he said. I began to feel my cheeks go warm. “I like it very much. But it is still difficult.”
“I regret the same thing,” I said truthfully. “I wish I’d kept up more because I only capture a word here and there in full conversations, but I can hardly put together a proper sentence anymore. It would be wonderful to speak with everyone on the trail. I’m lucky so many others know enough to help me get by!”
“Yes, well, maybe in four, five years of doing this trail, you will know it by heart,” he joked.
“I’ll just marry someone French. I’m lazy,” I teased back.
We separated once more with just a few kilometers to get to the next town. I was thankful to stop early. I’d been tired all day, and I hoped to stave off a cold I felt coming on. Roger took out his St. Jacques de Compostelle book to see what types of places we could stay the night, both of us agreeing we wanted somewhere cheap.
“The one behind us is twenty-five euro with breakfast,” he said.
“I know they have a better view, but I kind of like being in the city. Quicker access to anything we want.”
“Yes, me as well. There is one for thirty-five euro. This one here is twenty-five euro, and it is saying in a tower–”
“THAT ONE REPEAT THAT I WANT TO GO TO THERE.”
“Ah, the tower? It may be a bit more as this book is two years old…”
“I don’t even care. I will pay extra to sleep in a tower.”
And so we did.
I’m becoming more and more like Belle every day.